I have book review déjà vu. I feel like I just read (and kind of hated) this book about a week ago. There was a point in Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock (the bottom of page 69, actually) where I threw the book down and thought, Not this AGAIN! NO NO NO NO! I just don’t understand the appeal of this “deep, dark secret” mental illness plot.
I was interested in this book because it was described to me as part dystopia, part high school contemporary. That sounds pretty cool, right? What’s more dystopian than a modern-day high school?
On Leonard’s eighteenth birthday, he plans to kill his former best friend and then himself. We follow him through his school day as he says goodbye to his few friends and works up the courage to carry out his plan. Sprinkled throughout the book are letters that Leonard writes to himself from his ideal future. In his imagination, the future is a post-apocalyptic world that is mostly covered by water. He lives in a lighthouse with his wife and daughter and is very happy.
The letters are my favorite part of the book. The explanation for them comes far too late, so they’re a little jarring to read, but they’re unique. They show a lot about Leonard’s character. Not many people would say that their ideal future is a world where pretty much everybody is dead. The upbeat tone of the letters also provides relief from Leonard’s self-obsessed attitude.
“I feel like I’m broken—like I don’t fit together anymore. Like there’s no more room for me in the world or something. Like I’ve overstayed my welcome here on Earth, and everyone’s trying to give me hints about that constantly. Like I should just check out.” – Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
“we can simultaneously be human and monster—that both of those possibilities are in all of us.” – Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Leonard is hiding a secret from the reader. His former best friend, Asher, did something awful to him. I’ve seen this same plot in a lot of other “mental illness” books, and I’m not a fan. I’m just going to copy my review for one of the other books, change the character names, and paste it here. You know that a plotline is overdone when the same review works for multiple books.
On one hand, I know that this is an extremely important book. Young adult stories about trauma and illness are necessary because (unfortunately) many young readers have had trauma and/or mental illness in their lives. Everyone deserves to see themselves in a book.
On the other hand, I found this novel to be really, really predictable. Leonard has a deep, dark, traumatic secret that he’s hiding from everybody. It’s the exact same deep, dark, traumatic secret that a ton of other YA protagonists are hiding. I feel like I’ve read this book before. Many, many times. I could see his secret coming from a thousand miles away. Since I figured out his secret relatively early, I had to sit through 100+ pages of tedious angst while I waited for him to tell me what I already knew. If I hadn’t been reading this book for a class, I wouldn’t have finished it. Predictable books frustrate me.
I struggled to connect with every character in this book. A lot of them feel like stereotypes. There’s the depressed teen, the quirky old man, the absentee parents, the hero teacher. Leonard’s plan to kill Asher and commit suicide never seems all that threatening, and my brain was always several steps ahead of the plot. Maybe I need to give up on “mental illness” books because this one didn’t do much that I haven’t seen before.
I know this review sounds pretty negative. This isn’t a horrible book. I can see why it has so many positive reviews. It’s well-written and very quick to read. Up until page 69, when I figured out what Asher did to Leonard, I was intrigued by the story. It has an excellent message for teens who are struggling through high school. But, overall, this novel just isn’t unique enough for me.
“‘I can tell you get it—you're different. And I know how hard being different can be. But I also know how powerful a weapon being different can be. How the world needs such weapons. Gandhi was different. All great people are. And unique people such as you and me need to seek out other unique people who understand—so we don't get too lonely and end up where you did tonight.’” – Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock